Chungking Mansions is a 17-floor building situated at 36-44 Nathan Road, in Tsim Sha Tsui. The building counts 5 different blocks (A, B, C, D, and E). However, in reality, there are only 3 blocks cause B and C are the same. Each block has two lifts, one deserves even numbers while other the odd numbers. The first two floors are a common area where you can find many different stores and restaurants. The third floor is more like a terrace, it’s on this floor that the towers rise. The building was famous ever since its first day. It was built in 1961. One of the tallest building in the district, made mostly for the residential purposes, attracted people, including some actors. The place offered a tremendous view of the harbour. It is said that Cherie Chung lived there for more than 20 years. It wasn’ always considered as a dodgy. In the 1970s, the building became a hot spot for Western hippies and backpackers after an article in Lonely Planet. Building’s bad construction and fires that struck the place in the 1980s contributed to a deterioration of the building. Its atmosphere is very often compared with Kowloon Walled City. However, Chungking Mansions was never that dramatically out of the law.
It is amazing how much you can actually obtain in only one building. I would definitely describe it as a self-sufficient world in itself. You could stay there for weeks or even months without leaving and still you could get all need. Once you pass the entry and touts, you find yourself in a completely different world. Are you looking for samosas or a phone card? No problem. This place offers such a vast array of goods and services: haircuts, whisky, real estate, electronic plugs, shoes, laundry service. You could even buy sex or drugs, or book a flight, exchange currency, cut your key. Whether you are looking for a place to sleep, halal barbeque, computer repair, a spy camera fixed in pen or glasses, groceries, medicines, laundry service, legal advice on asylum seeking, or spiritual sustenance, this is the place where you can get it.
People of Chungking Mansions
During more than 3 years of research, author Gordon Mathews spend countless time in Chungking Mansions. During those years, he met more than 129 different nationalities. It is said that around 4000 people stay over any given night. The place attracts different kinds of people, and the cultural diversity is nothing less than impressive. This world of otherness hidden inside the walls on one of the busiest streets in HK.
Owners and managers, mostly Chinese and South Asian, arrived in the 1970s and 1980s and bought the cheapest property that could be found. By hard work, they managed to send their kids to universities. For most South Asian, it’s a place unlike the rest of HK, where they can work with their fellow countrymen and not suffer discrimination for their non-Chinese ethnicity.
- Temporary workers
With no chance for legal work, without visas and work permit, some immigrants work as clerks in stores, touts, waiters, dishwashers in restaurants. Without them, many businesses inside Chungking Mansions could no longer afford to exist.
- Asylum Seekers
- Domestic helpers
Some domestic workers are employed in Chungking Mansions. However, most of them are drawn by the food and shopping.
- Sex workers
Around 85-90% of the people who work or stay in Chungking Mansions are male. Not surprising, it has been a magnet for sex workers from an array of nationalities. There are sex workers living in the building. During my research, the biggest number that I encountered was around 60-80 in total.
- Heroin addicts
The idea that still exists in the press, movies or all over Internet is that Chungking Mansions is full of illegal drugs. It might have been true 20-30 years ago. Now, apart from alcohol, it is not that frequent.
Attracted from all over the world, by low range price of rooms, or an adventure. They book a room and when they arrive, their reaction might be diverse.
During almost 4 years of research, Prof. Gordon Matthew spent almost all his free time in Chungking Mansion. First, he discovered the place as a tourist, then he decided to do research about the building, but mostly about people who live and work there. This is one of the very few books in the world that treats a single building as a subject for anthropological studies.
Guesthouses and Restaurants
There are around 222 licenced guesthouses with 1687 rooms. We stayed at Maple Leaf Guesthouse and it was fine. Most of the rooms are small cubicles with one of two beds, a TV, an air conditioner, and shower/toilet in one. I wrote a blog post about booking a room in Chungking Mansions, you can read it here.
As for the restaurants, the place is mostly famous for Indian food. But not only. I ate at Khyber Pass. The owner is called the king of curry. The food is great! I heard that The Delhi Club is worth a visit, but I’ve never tried it.
Have you ever been to Chungking Mansions? Or, are you planning to visit it on your next travel to Hong Kong?